Is Christmas All About a Magic Mushroom?

There could be a reason Santa's reindeer are flying high, and an explanation for the jolly old elf's "Ho ho ho," too.

It’s that time of year again—the carolers are caroling, the shopkeepers are selling and Christians are preparing to celebrate the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ of 

Nazareth. Typically, celebrations involve gift giving, presents are left under a pine tree erected in the home and children are told they were delivered by a fat man from 

the North Pole who slips down the chimney at night in a red and white suit. While it’s hard to make the leap from Jesus Christ to Santa Claus, it makes sense when you learn the history—and it’s all tied to a psychedelic mushroom. 

Ethnobotanists make the case that drugs for recreational and spiritual use were incorporated into pagan winter solstice time celebrations that predated Christmas. 

Today, many fundamentalist Christians find the celebration of Christmas with all its non-Christian aspects objectionable. They clearly recognize the pagan roots of today's Santa Claus-centered Christmas. They believe the focus should be on a contemporary conservative, Protestant view of the New Testament and the Old Testament. 

Ethnobotanists, led by James Arthur, make an intriguing case that Christmas traditions owe a lot to the red and white mushroom fly agaric, aka Amanita muscaria, or the psilocybin “magic” mushroom that inspired Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Symbols like presents, Christmas trees, Santa's suit and “ho ho ho” are all potentially related to A. muscaria. Santa's suit is red and white, the colors of A. muscaria. 

In this view, a Christmas tree with presents under it symbolizes both the celestial and spiritual present of A. muscaria, which grows mostly under pine trees. Santa comes down the chimney, the same as the mushroom-eating Siberian Shamans entered the medieval peasants' Siberian yurts—at that time and place, the yurt door and chimney were the same opening. Santa's "ho ho ho" is recognized by ethnobotanists as the ecstatic laugh of one who is under the influence of a euphoriant. Even Santa's ruddy complexion can be attributed to consuming the mushroom because it causes the skin to be flushed and glowing. 

R. Gordon Wasson observed, "Reindeer have a passion for mushrooms and specifically fly agaric..." When reindeer eat the red with white-flecked mushrooms or drink the urine of humans or other reindeer that have consumed the A. muscaria mushroom, they act unusual, at least for reindeer. It's suggested the story that reindeer pull Santa's sleigh comes from the reindeers’ fondness of browsing on these hallucinogenic mushrooms and their behavior after partaking of this hallucinogen. Indeed, reindeer dance, prance, "fly around" and act strange after eating the A. muscaria mushroom. 

Some of the connections attributed to the pagan origins of Christmas are a bit of a logical stretch, others pure supposition, others at least give pause for thought. 

Santa's eight reindeer may symbolize the pagan stag god and eight is the number for a new beginning. Thor, the Norse god, rode through the sky in a magic chariot pulled by reindeer. The names of the reindeer mirror reindeer behavior post mushroom eating, and suggest pagan gods and nature. That may just be coincidental, but then again ... 

Donner and Blitzen, are Dutch for thunder and lightning (actually Donner was changed from Dunder) and Cupid is a messenger of Eros, an ancient pagan god of  

love. This might reflect the use of the Shamanistic mushroom to enhance the ecstasy of sexual orgasm. Dance and Prance are what reindeer do after eating the mushroom. Comet is a celestial body in flight. Vixen may just be there for poetry or may represent witches' (a vixen) magic. 

This line of thinking traces the origin of our contemporary flying Santa Claus and his sleigh to the hallucination of flight caused when humans ingest the colorful red and white topped A. muscaria mushroom. Expositions of this thesis continue that the Santa flying myth relates to the experience of Koryak shamans of Siberia. To the Koryak people, A. muscaria was a spirit they called "wapaq." They believed these spirits would tell any person who ate them, even a layman, what ailed him if he was sick, explain a dream, foretell the future or show the person the upper or lower world.  

Taken in small doses, fly agaric is a powerful hallucinogen. Its active ingredients are ibotenic acid and muscimol. In order to be safely consumed, it must be properly prepared. When the mushroom is dried, the ibotenic acid is converted to muscimol, the mushroom's most active entheogenic constituent. Muscimol is said to be ten times more potent than ibotenic acid. 

The Koryak shaman knew how to prepare the mushroom to remove its more toxic components. They would bring prepared fly agaric to spiritual ceremonies in a sack, like Santa's bag of toys, and enter the yurt (a portable circular-domed dwelling) through the smoke hole (like a chimney). 

These shamans used Amanita muscaria to put themselves into an ecstatic trance. During this mushroom-induced trance, the shaman would start to twitch and sweat. 

His soul was thought to leave his body in the form of an animal, ascend through the smoke hole in the yurt and fly to the spirit world to communicate with the spirits. The shaman would seek the spirits' help for him to deal with pressing problems of the village.

Historian Ronald Hutton said in a National Public Radio story, "If you look at the evidence of Siberian shamanism, which I've done, you will find that shamans didn't travel by sleigh, didn't usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn't have red-and white clothes."

But authors and anthropologists John Rush and Carl Ruck claim shamans did deal with reindeer spirits. As for sleighs, the point isn't the exact mode of travel, but that the "trip" involves transportation to a different, celestial realm, Rush said. 

"People who knew about shamanism accept this story," Ruck said. "Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia." 

Argument for the Mushroom & Christmas Connection 

Saint Nicholas is the patron Saint of children in Siberia (Russia). He supplanted the indigenous Shamans who used the Amanita mushroom 

Reindeer eat fly agaric mushrooms and dance and prance. These actions are the basis for their presumed flight 

Santa brings presents in his white bag/sack. (a) Mushrooms are gathered in bags and (b) Amanita muscaria sprouts out of a white oval sack 

The mushrooms are red and white and grow under a green tree. 

Typically, the red and white mushrooms are dried by stringing them on the  hearth of the fireplace. Christmas stockings are red and white, hung in the same way, and shaped similarly.

The Virgin Birth is symbolic for the "seedless" germination pattern of the mushroom. To the ancient mind, with no microscope to see the spores, its  appearance was said to be miraculous." 

James Arthur 

Mushrooms and Mankind (2000) 

Excerpted from:  Drugs are not the Devil’s Tools: How Discrimination and Greed Created a Dysfunctional Drug Policy and how it Can Be Fixed

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